Duane Abels

Dr. Duane Abels participates in a panel discussion.

On Christmas Eve, Carbon County Public Health and the Memorial Hospital of Carbon (MHCC) received a unique and long-anticipated gift: 500 initial doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Duane Abels became the first person in Carbon County to receive the vaccine, which marked the beginning of a carefully planned vaccination campaign.

In order to address the community’s questions and concerns regarding the vaccine, Carbon County Public Health and MHCC set up a panel to share facts, updates, and answer questions.

“I was the first one to get the vaccine, and I still have ten fingers and ten toes. I did have a sore arm at the injection site, but that’s it,” Dr. Abels began the meeting. Abels is a retired Rawlins physician, and part of MHCC’s COVID-19 response committee. Before receiving the shot, he studied the vaccine and felt that all the science and technology was legitimate, effective, and safe.

Public health is currently working through Phase 1A of the vaccination rollout, which includes frontline healthcare workers and long term care facilities. They hope to have that phase completed by end of the week of Jan. 11. From that point, they will move on to Phase 1B, which is a continuation of healthcare workers, school teachers, and people aged 70 years and older.

Amanda Brown, RN, the Carbon County public health nurse manager, said that public health is working with senior centers throughout Carbon County to organize vaccination administration. They are tentatively scheduled to start administering at senior centers the week of Jan.25. If that changes, the public will be informed via various media outlets, including social media.

“We have vaccinated 263 people as of this morning, and will continue to do more vaccinations today,” said Ken Harman, CEO of MHCC. He explained that none of the 263 people experienced significant complications. Similar to Abels, most people only experienced a sore arm, and some had body aches that went away quickly.

Public health and hospital staff are being extremely careful not waste any doses of the vaccine, and have been successful so far. Abels noted that Carbon County’s percentage of vaccination is higher than many places in the country. He attributes that to the commendable work of the public health and hospital staff.

“This is a two shot series. Immunization does not occur until two weeks after the second shot,” said Christina Baugh, RN, infection prevention specialist and director of quality for MHCC. She explained that if a person experiences signs and symptoms of COVID-19 after receiving the first shot, they should isolate and get tested. She also implored the public to find the peer-reviewed research on the vaccine and see what it says, especially if they are fearful or hesitant.

Here are some other questions asked and answered:

How do I prepare to receive the vaccine?

“Print off and fill out the vaccination form from public health’s website. Bring your insurance card if you have one, which will help cover administrative costs. But, the vaccine is free to everyone regardless of insurance coverage,” said Jacquelin Wells, RN, acting public information officer for Carbon County public health’s COVID response.

If a person is sick or has been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last fourteen days, they should not come in to get the vaccine until they have recovered. Don’t take Tylenol or Benadryl before receiving the dose, but you can take it if a reaction occurs afterwards. Wells also said that you can expect to wait with their staff for 15 minutes after receiving the shot to ensure that there is no severe reaction.

If I’ve already had COVID-19, should I still get the shot?

Brown said that even if a person has had COVID-19, they recommend that they still receive the vaccine. The immunization from the vaccine will last much longer than from the virus.

Are there populations that should not get the vaccine?

The vaccine was not yet approved for people under the age of 18.

The panel said that pregnant women should talk to their doctors about before getting it, but there are no expected negative effects.

Does the 500 initial doses include the second dose?

The 500 doses include just the first doses of the vaccine. However, Moderna has guaranteed the second dose. They would not have shipped the first doses without the certainty that the second doses were available, and they are expected to arrive promptly.

Why did it take so long to roll out the vaccine in Carbon County?

Harman explained that each vial of the vaccine has 10 doses, and that all doses must be administered six hours after opening the vial. The public health and hospital staff wanted to make absolutely sure that they would not waste doses. They proceeded with care and caution, and that has resulted in highly successful administration rates. Public health and the hospital staff are administering vaccinations on top of their other duties that are unrelated to the pandemic.

Is there any evidence of long term effects?

Abels explained that previous studies of vaccines show that long term side effects typically reveal themselves after the first two months of administration. We are well past that two month study mark, and so likely there will be no long term side effects.

He added that billions of dollars were poured into this vaccine, which is unprecedented and explains how it was able to roll out so quickly. The studies were done exactly as they were supposed to be done, and were peer reviewed by scientists.

Can I stop wearing my mask if I get vaccinated?

Unfortunately, no, not right away. There needs to be herd immunity before that is possible.

“There’s a simple way to stop mask-wearing: get the vaccine so we can get herd immunity. Please get the vaccine!” Abels said.

He stressed that 85% of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. When herd immunity is achieved, we can all start thinking about returning to a normal, mask-less life.

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